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Bhagavad Gita

Bhagavad Gita

Of the large number of holy books revered within Hindu culture, the Bhagavad Gita, a short work originally written in Sanskrit, is by far the most popular. An epic poem, it lays out a path of mystical devotion to Krishna, one of the primary deities in the Hindu pantheon, and describes the Hindu perspective on such essential teachings as reincarnation and karma. It was one of the first books translated by Western scholars as they began to study Eastern teachings in the eighteenth century, and it was widely circulated among dissident religious groups such as the Transcendentalists of New England.

The Gita was written over a period of years between the fifth and second centuries B.C.E. At a later date, it was inserted into the larger Mahabharata, the great epic volume of Indian history and lore. The Mahabharata tells the story of the development of ancient India and the activities of the descendents of Bharata, the mythical character from whom India (or Bharat) takes its name. The story of the Gita is set as a war has broken out between two groups of Bharata's descendents, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, and concerns the problem that Arjuna, the leader of the Pandava army, has in participating in that war. He turns the problem he has been contemplating over to Krishna. Is it worth ruling a kingdom, to kill so many kinsmen?

Krishna responds by calling Arjuna to attend to his role in life as a member of the warrior caste, and not turn his back on his social duty (dharma). Duty should be followed without regard of results. More importantly, however, he offers an understanding of the human being. The human is not a body, but the eternal Atman (analogous to the soul in Western thought), and the Atman is indestructible. The Atman cannot die and it is reborn in this life a number of times. Just as humans change clothes, so the Atman changes bodies. Krishna goes on to out-line the process of yoga and meditation through which a person can come to know the real amid the illusionary world of human life. His teaching culminates in a mystical moment in which Arjuna sees the vast universe lodged as a body within the God of gods.

In the relationship of Arjuna and Krishna, the Gita offers a model of the relationship between chela (pupil) and guru (teacher), so essential to Eastern culture, a structure that has been brought to the West in great force, and now without controversy, during the twentieth century. That structure has focused the question of the necessity of a guru in training a seeker in appropriating mystical states of consciousness.

Numerous translations of the Gita exist in English (and other Western languages), the different translations reflecting the variant understandings of the deity as personal or impersonal in Hindu thought. In the Western work, the Vedanta Societies offer an impersonalist interpretation of the deity while the International Society of Krishna Consciousness is a major exponent of the personalist approach.

Sources:

The Bhagavad Gita. Translated by Juan Mascaró. New York: Penguin Classics, 1962.

Oragan, Troy Wilson. Hinduism: Its Historical Development. Woodbury, Conn.: Barons' Educational Series, 1974.

Prabhupada, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. Bhagavad Gita As It Is. New York: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1972 (frequently reprinted).

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Bhagavad-gītā

Bhagavad-gītā (Skt., ‘the song of the Bhagavā’). A fundamental text for Hindus—for many, the most sublime. It forms part of book vi of the Mahābhārata, and in eighteen sections of 700 verses, it explores the situation which has brought the warrior Arjuna to a crisis of conscience: he is opposed in battle by members of his own family; should he attack and perhaps kill them? Offered the assistance of Kṛṣṇa Devakīputra, he accepts and receives instruction on appropriate conduct and attitudes. The main part of the Gītā records this instruction. Kṛṣṇa points Arjuna to the three paths (marga), of knowledge (jñāna-marga), of action with detachment (karma-marga), and of devotion to God (bhakti-mārga). Since these are ways of being united to the ultimately true and real, they are also known as karmayoga, jñāna-yoga, and bhakti-yoga, the latter amounting to rāja-yoga.

The Gītā appears to have been addressed (the date is uncertain, but c.200 BCE is likely) to a situation in which major unease about the excessive and costly rituals of Brahmanical religion had led to a reaction so severe that it had isolated both Buddhism and Jainism as separate religions. The Gītā appears to make a deliberate attempt to show the worth of the major ways of the continuing tradition (though obviously it corrects any non-theistic system if taken in isolation). It therefore reads as a deliberate attempt to reconcile and hold the line against further schism. It achieves a profound reconciliation; not surprisingly, therefore, it is the most revered and influential text among Hindus.

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Bhagavad-Gita

Bhagavad-Gita (bŭg´əvəd-gē´tə) [Skt.,=song of the Lord], Sanskrit poem incorporated into the Mahabharata, one of the greatest religious classics of Hinduism. The Gita (as it is often called) consists of a dialogue between Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna on the eve of the great battle of Kurukshetra. Arjuna is overcome with anguish when he sees in the opposing army many of his kinsmen, teachers, and friends. Krishna persuades him to fight by instructing him in spiritual wisdom and the means of attaining union with God (see yoga). The main doctrines of the Gita are karma-yoga, the yoga of selfless action performed with inner detachment from its results; jnana-yoga, the yoga of knowledge and discrimination between the lower nature of man and his soul, which is identical with the supreme self; and bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion to a particular god—in this case, Krishna, who reveals himself to Arjuna as the avatara (incarnation) of Vishnu, Lord of the Universe. The Bhagavad-Gita is essentially Upanishadic in content, but it differs significantly from the brahman-atman doctrine of the Upanishads in teaching that the highest God is personal and that love and surrender to God's grace is a better and easier spiritual path than that of pure knowledge. The Gita has been the subject of many commentaries and has been much translated. Its translators include Annie Besant, Sir Edwin Arnold, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and Mohandas Gandhi.

See F. Edgerton, The Bhagavad Gita (1944); E. Deutsch, ed., Bhagavad Gita (1968); B. S. Miller, The Bhagavad Gita (1986).

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Bhagavad Gita

Bhagavad Gita (Hindi, ‘Song of the Lord’) Sanskrit poem, forming part of the sixth book of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. Probably written in the 1st or 2nd century ad, it is perhaps the greatest philosophical expression of Hinduism. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna (as an incarnation of Vishnu) instructs Prince Arjuna on the importance of absolute devotion (bhakti) to a personal god as a means of salvation.

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Bhagavadgita

Bhagavadgita a sacred Hindu poem composed between the 2nd century bc and the 2nd century ad and incorporated into the Mahabharata. Presented as a dialogue between the Kshatriya prince Arjuna and his divine charioteer Krishna, it stresses the importance of doing one's duty and of faith in God.

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